Kaohsiung, Taiwan Report of what it's like to live there - 08/08/11

Personal Experiences from Kaohsiung, Taiwan

Kaohsiung, Taiwan 08/08/11

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No, I've lived in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Taipei, and Monterrey (Mexico).

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Toronto. The trips have gotten a lot shorter in recent years. Usually, we flew Toronto- HK - Kaohsiung. Including a 4-5 hour layover, it usually took less than 20 hours going there, and less than 24 hours coming to Canada. Now there's a direct flight from Toronto to Taipei with EVA Air. From Taipei, you can take a bus, train, or the HSR (High Speed Rail) to Kaohsiung. That flight takes 12-14 hours, and the HSR takes another 1.5 hours. Not bad for traveling across the planet!

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3. How long have you lived here?

I lived there for 4 years, from August 2007 - June 2011

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Educator

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Housing in Kaohsiung is more spacious than in Taipei. There are apartments in high rises, and also townhouses that basically have one or two rooms per floor, but stretch up four stories. There are really beautiful accommodations all over the city, right along the subway line.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

More and more western groceries are available now. Costco is in Kaohsiung, and you can get cheese and even sour cream now! Dairy products used to be rare, but now they're cheaper than what you can get in Canada. Cereal is one of the more rare and expensive items; a small box of cornflakes could cost 300NT.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

I would ship some food that I missed, English books. There's actually not much that I would ship - I could find almost everything I wanted here.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

All the major fast food chains are around: McDonald's, Burger King, Subway, and there are lots of different kinds of restaurants, from hole-in-the-walls to upscale 6000NT/meal/person restaurants. Typical local meal costs 100NT. McDonald's Big Mac Combo is 79NT at lunch, and 109NT for dinner. A meal at TGI Friday's is considered more upper class, and ranges from 400-900 NT.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

There are lots of organic vegetables and fruits around, although there is no real regulation to deem what is really organic. Vegetarians would have a hard time eating out, unless they ate at Buddhist restaurants.

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6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

There are the usual tropical bugs - cockroaches being the most annoying.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Mail came directly to my house. The Post Office is cheap for sending mail. A letter to Canada was cheaper than sending a letter within Canada!

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

It seems fairly easy to find someone to clean. The cost was about 250NT per hour. Because apartments are smaller, someone could usually clean the whole place in 2-4 hours. I don't know much about nannies, but friends did have live-in Filipino helpers to watch their children. There are lots of strict rules for foreign domestic workers.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes, but they're pretty expensive. They can range from 1500-3000NT or more per month. Get someone who speaks Chinese to go with you to get a membership, or else you won't get any deals.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

It's still pretty much a cash society, except at major department stores or hotels. ATMs are everywhere.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Yes, there are a few churches in Kaohsiung. The biggest one is Bilingual Community Church (non-denominational). There are also smaller ones that are almost like house churches, but they come and go.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

You can probably buy American papers somewhere, but they're very pricey. There are two English-language papers. One is called the Taipei Times and another called the China Post. English TV is available with cable. We got the Travel/Living Channel (a compilation of Food/Travel/House/Reality shows), and a bunch of movie channels such as HBO. For a while, we also got Star World, which used to have shows like the Ellen Degeneres show. Cable was cheap, about 510NT per month. I've heard there's a new thing called the MOD, which is even cheaper.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

You can get by without knowing much Chinese, but you miss out on A LOT. Generally, pointing and gesturing will get the things you need, but without being able to speak Chinese, you'd miss out on friendships, deals, and being a part of the culture.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

It is not a good city for anyone with physical difficulties (or with a baby in a stroller)! If there are sidewalks (and that's a big if), they're usually taken care of by the owner of the store that it's near. Some take care of their sidewalks, others don't. There are also usually scooters parked on the sidewalks too, so there's a lot of weaving, ups and downs, and other obstacles. Buildings also don't often have access either. But in the four years we lived there, we saw a vast improvement.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

All modes of transportation are generally safe. They are VERY affordable. The MRT (subway) costs 20-60NT per ride, depending on the distance. Long distance buses to other cities are cheap too. For example, a ride to Taipei (5-hour journey) can cost about 700-900NT, one way. Train tickets are cheap too. HSR (High Speed Rail) tickets are more expensive; for example, a one-way ticket for Kaohsiung to Taipei is 1490NT. Taxis are usually safe, but it's always good to go with someone else at night, or to have a cell phone.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

There's no reason to bring a vehicle to Taiwan. There are lots here and with a residency card, one can buy a car. Toyotas, Mitsubishis, and Hondas are popular.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes. Internet was tied to our phone. Phone plus internet cost about 1100NT per month.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Everyone uses cell phones here! You can get a pay-as-you-go SIM card at 7-11 or another convenience store with your ARC (Alien Residence Certificate). You can also sign a contract with places like Chunghwa Telecom. These are pretty good deals. With my contract, I paid 183NT per month. Incoming calls were free, and calls to other Chunghwa Telecom subscribers were cheaper than to land lines or other subscribers.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Kaohsiung is not a good place for jobs for locals, much less expats. And the English-teaching market is slowing down.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Pretty much the same as in North America

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Nope!

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

The air quality is pretty poor, so medical conditions like asthma or allergies can flare up here. Medical care is generally good, and most doctors speak enough English. You'd probably need some help navigating the crazy medical system at first though! If a hospital stay is required, things become more complicated as there is little after-care. Patients' families/friends are expected to help with things like changing sheets, and food is usually not provided.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Unhealthy. Kaohsiung is pretty polluted, although if you came here 10 years ago, you'd think Kaohsiung now has such clean air. It was a factory city, but it has cleaned up a lot. We lived in the countryside, but that didn't make it any better since pesticides were used a lot.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Kaohsiung is south of the Tropic of Cancer, which means it is warm almost all year round. January-February gets some cold spells (about 10-15 Celsius), which feels REALLY cold because there's no heat and houses are made of concrete. Nov-Dec, and March-April are pleasant, with temperatures around 25C. From June to October, there are typhoons and lots of rain. It gets very humid.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

I taught at Morrison Academy Kaohsiung, a K-9 school, and it is a wonderful school. The staff are cohesive and hard-working, and genuinely love the students. It's the first school I've been at where kids cry because it's summer vacation. They love it so much they don't want to leave. The other major international school is Kaohsiung American School, which offers classes from K-12. It has had mixed reviews in the past, but I've heard it's improving. There are other "bilingual" international schools, but none that are currently accreditated by WASC. Many of them are major money-makers, and parents need to check them out carefully. Personally, I wouldn't send my kids to any of these.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

There are few, if any, services available for special needs at any of the international schools. Schools aren't big enough to be equipped with staff for kids with special needs.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

There are lots of local preschools/daycares around. Generally, they are hit-or-miss, and don't usually take kids until they are two. The one my son went to had breakfast and lunch provided. It was already a less traditional school, but I think it was still very teacher-focused, not the Montessori method that is so popular in North American culture.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Not really. There are some martial arts programs, but local schools provide their own extracurricular sports programs after school.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

The expat community is very small. It consists of English teachers, International School teachers, and a handful of business people.

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2. Morale among expats:

Excellent - generally everyone loves living in Taiwan.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

There are the usual clubs and bars, but for more of a local flavour of nightlife, there are nightmarkets and KTV (Karaoke).

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

This is a great city for everyone!

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Because Taiwan is a homogeneous society, anyone who looks different is usually commented on. Taiwanese people aren't afraid to comment on looks, especially about skin colour or size. If you're white, generally, you're liked and even idolized. If you're of any other colour, then you're not. No one actually hates anyone, so there's no danger of violence.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

There are so many! We love, love, LOVE, the night life. There are night markets all the time, shops open till midnight, and food available all the time. We had a chance to travel to almost every major city/attraction in Taiwan - Penghu Islands is one of our favourite trips. Speaking Chinese is also another plus of living here since many people don't speak English well.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Lotus Lake (cultural), The Old British Consulate, Siziwan Bay (beach), nightmarkets (for food: Rueifong, for clothin: Xinjuezhang), shopping (Dream Mall, Hanshin), eating (anywhere, and everywhere), 7-11 (yes, they're really fun!), E-Da World (newly built outlet mall with the "largest Greek-themed Amusement Park in Asia").

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Food, like stinky tofu

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

The weather is AMAZING in Kaohsiung, and working as a teacher is perfect since we avoided two of the three worst months (June/July/a bit of August). We never had to check the weather report because it was usually SUNNY, and WARM. It was 2 hours from the most southern tip of Taiwan, with gorgeous beaches. Traveling around the country is easy and offers such diversity of landscape - from waterfalls, mountains, beaches, cities, etc. Taiwan has the best of both worlds - for example, you can eat Chinese food for cheap, yet still be able to get a good burger. It's also incredibly safe to live here.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes, if you're careful and don't have a family with 4 kids!

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

YES YES YES!

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Winter gear

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3. But don't forget your:

Scuba gear & swimsuits, feminine products, sunscreen

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Turn Left Turn Right, Cape No. 7, Betel Nut Girl,

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6. Do you have any other comments?

If you get a chance to move to Kaohsiung, DO IT!

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